The stage is set for a final weekend of Conference action in the 2014 MLS Playoffs, as the four remaining teams duke it out one last time before two sides secure their spots in the MLS Cup Finals.
New England and New York will settle the Eastern Conference final on Saturday while the LA Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders will wait until Sunday. With two winners in the first leg, it all sets up for plenty of different storylines, whether it be a come-from-behind win or another assertive performance en route to the finals.
Here’s how it all breaks down in the East and the West.
New England Revolution 2-1 New York Red Bulls
The New England Revolution picked up a huge 2-1 win in the first leg of the Eastern Conference final at Red Bull Arena, making for a very difficult second leg for the New York Red Bulls to come back from at Gillette Stadium. It was New England’s first win at Red Bull Arena, too.
Bradley Wright-Phillips once again hit the back of the net for New York but Jermaine Jones’ late goal was the difference between the two teams, and might just prove to be the difference maker in the second leg. New England holds a precious away goal now, forcing New York to win the next match by at least two goals.
It all sets up for a match that is sure to feature plenty of cagey defending from New England and lots of frantic attack from New York, especially from Thierry Henry. This match could potentially be the last for the French legend in New York colors, and despite being played on turf, Henry will be more than motivated for this one.
For New England, the objective is simple but the job will be difficult: keep the Red Bulls from a scoring rout. Finding a third aggregate goal at home would just about cement New England’s spot in the finals, but this will require some defensive discipline, which might force New England’s freely-advancing midfield to drop back a bit more.
For New York, the task is made more difficult due to the away goals rule but not impossible. The Red Bulls have scored four goals in a single game five times in the regular season, so a scouring rout, one spearheaded by Henry and Wright-Phillips, isn’t out of the cards, either. Ultimately, it’s do or die time for New York at this point.
It makes for a very tough call. If New England walked away 3-1 winners at Red Bull arena, forcing New York to answer with three goals on the return leg, then the point would be moot. But it’s still a very close series, and while New England is a strong team, New York, or, really, Thierry Henry, is capable of achieving great things.
So for this one, New York might just be able to pull it off in the end with a simple 2-0 win on Saturday.
Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0 Seattle Sounders
Over in the Western Conference, the LA Galaxy held firm at the StubHub Center, picking up a crucial 1-0 win and keeping Seattle off the score sheet, thereby eliminating the away goal threat the Sounders could have posed. The ball, as they say, is now entirely in the Galaxy’s court.
Marcelo Sarvas scored the only goal in the first leg, putting Seattle in a must-win situation at home. Luckily, at home is exactly where Seattle will want to mount its own resistance, one that starts and ends at the back, where defender Chad Marshall and goalkeeper Stefan Frei put up huge performances in the first game.
The Western Conference Final could end 0-0 or end 5-0. It’s just one of those games. The Sunday night encounter could quickly turn sour as these two giants collide one last time in 2014. Landon Donovan’s final season in MLS makes for a swansong storyline for Los Angeles but his U.S. teammate, Clint Dempsey, will want to prove his price tag.
Seattle swim in uncharted waters; this is the furthest the Sounders have gone in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Galaxy are back on stage, comfortable as can be; this is a Los Angeles side that has been a constant playoff threat since David Beckham’s time at the club and have won this tournament on numerous occasions in that time.
All Los Angeles has to do is keep the score level or score an away goal of its own. That won’t be easy, though. Seattle could theoretically score just one and push the series into overtime, followed by penalty shoot outs, which would be a shame. But such is the evenly contested nature of these two teams that a draw is very much a possibility; the last match nearly ended as such, too.
Ultimately, only one of these sides can go to the MLS Cup final and in this series, it’s hard seeing a scenario whereby that Western finalist is not the LA Galaxy. With Robbie Keane on fire all year and a motivated Landon Donovan, the Seattle Sounders pose one final major test. A 0-0 result is our prediction at CenturyLink, putting the final series as Los Angeles vs. New York.